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Amazon calls out Bernie Sanders for "misleading accusations"

Undercover at an Amazon warehouse
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Amazon has had enough of Bernie Sanders. The online retailer on Wednesday accused the Vermont senator of spreading "misleading statements" about the pay it offers workers, while urging Sanders to visit one of the company's fulfillment centers.

"We have been in regular contact with his office and have offered several opportunities for Senator Sanders and his team to tour one of our fulfillment centers (FCs)," Amazon said in a blog post. "To date he has still not seen an FC for himself."

Sanders, who has repeatedly highlighted the disparity in income between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, and his workers, plans to introduce legislation on September 5 that would make large employers like Amazon foot the bill for federal aid received by their workers, including food stamps and Medicaid.

"All over this country, many Amazon employees, who work for the wealthiest person on Earth, are paid wages so low they can't make ends meet," Sanders said in a statement.

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Sanders added that he asked to visit a fulfillment center in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last month, but that Amazon was unable to accommodate him. He's now working out details for a visit to a center in Chester, Virginia, next month, Sanders said.

Amazon defended its pay practices. The average hourly wage for a full-time worker at one of the company's warehouses comes to over $15 an hour once stock and bonuses are factored in, Amazon said. Beyond offering its workers a "climate-controlled, safe workplace," Amazon also pointed to the employee benefits it offers, including health insurance, retirement plans and paid leave. 

The company said it created 130,000 new jobs in the U.S. last year.

Amazon has pushed back recently against claims that it exploits workers, including an expose by a British journalist who said the company treats employees "like robots." Amazon has encouraged employees dubbed "FC ambassadors" -- employees at its fulfillment centers -- to respond on Twitter when the company is criticized for poor working conditions or pay.

More than two dozen accounts have cropped up to reply to Sanders and others, with all adopting a similar look and tone, including a photo of the account owner inside an Amazon warehouse and cheerful talk about time spent as pickers or packers at Amazon sites. 

The FC ambassadors "are employees who have experience working in our fulfillment centers," an Amazon spokesperson said by email, while declining to comment on how many held the positions or how much they were paid. "It's important that we do a good job of educating people about the actual environment inside our fulfillment centers, and the FC ambassador program is a big part."

Sanders isn't alone in accusing Amazon of having a large swath of workers on federal aid. In Arizona alone, nearly a third of the company's roughly 6,000 workers participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the federal anti-poverty program formerly known as food stamps, according to an April report by New Food Economy, a nonprofit news site.

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Amazon, which collected $4 million in subsidies in the state, ranked as the 28th-largest employer in Arizona but placed fifth for the number of workers enrolled in SNAP, the site reported.

In Pennsylvania, an estimated $24.8 million in subsidies support 13 warehouses that employ about 10,000 workers, 1,000 of whom do not earn enough to purchase groceries, the group found. Amazon placed as the 19th largest employer in Pennsylvania in 2017, and fifth in terms of the number of employees using SNAP.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is testing a program under which a number of online grocery sellers, including Amazon, accept food stamps.

In his statement, Sanders also pointed to "disturbing stories about working conditions at fulfillment centers run by Amazon and its contractors," noting that they rank on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health's list of most dangerous places to work in the U.S.

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